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Sony NEX-EA50 (all variants)
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Old April 18th, 2015, 11:06 PM   #1
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Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Guys

Believe it or not I still am struggling to get focus spot on with outdoor wedding ceremonies especially when brides seem intent on having a bright backlit background which cannot be avoided. On the main camera with indoor speeches focus is sharp as a tack but often very bright outdoor backlit wedding groups seem to get the better of me.

I was wondering if there are any special hints and tips for manual focus on bright, backlit situations that you use? Maybe some sort of target one can place at where the couple will stand that the focus peaking will respond to better than soft fabric?? It's driving me crazy as the peaking does show up on areas but the image is often a bit soft and I have to revert to using footage from the second and third cameras to cover my backside!!

The main camera is around 20' away from the couple and probably zoomed around the 50 -60mm mark so the couple are framed nicely .... At say 55mm even at F2.8 I have around 2' either side of the couple to stay in focus and then at F11 (it's a bright day) I still have 3' either side so focus shouldn't be too hard to nail but it's still a smallish DOF .... !!

Where do you have a camera focussed on just the couple for their vows, especially outdoors ... Is a bit further back with a slightly higher zoom (say 70mm) a less risky position ? If one is say 30' away and at 70mm you do have slightly more DOF to play with!! Maybe I just need to drop back a bit wider and do couple cutaways with a second cam ? How far away is your cam that is on the couple when they do their vows??

Any bright ideas???

Chris
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Old April 19th, 2015, 02:11 AM   #2
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Chris,

By complete coincidence, I updated Magic Lantern the other day and took my 60D out to test my new Sigma f2.8 17-50mm lens. I had much the same problem as you with backlit and reflection shots. It doesn't seem to matter what peaking settings I use either.

Do you have a "magic zoom" focus assist function? It's a better way in my view, because I find peaking a bit hit-and-miss in each of my cameras that has it, although a bit less so on the smaller chip ones. The only way I find peaking to work reliably is to open the iris right up (and zoom in fully if applicable) to focus, then zoom out and stop down to shoot. I can see why that wouldn't be overly practical for you much of the time!

Dave
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Old April 19th, 2015, 03:11 AM   #3
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Dave

The EA-50 has both 4X and 8X focus assist but I think the issue was the backlighting was killing any decent peaking from showing up.... it's only outdoors with backlit situations. My main issue I think too is I'm in the wrong place with the wrong setting cos my DOF is pretty much 2' on each side of the bride which is a bit tricky. I think in these situations I need to just back off on the zoom a bit. However it's still nice to have the focal point as accurate as possible so I was wondering if one could make up some sort of focus target that you could clip to a stand and place it before the bride arrives ..I have an idea that peaking likes vertical lines?? Maybe a wooden board with black vertical lines printed on it might work??

Normal backgrounds outside are no issue and 8X assist is perfect but this bride insisted on having her back to the setting sun (well an hour and a half before actually which was even worse!!!) Maybe one needs a tape measure and do it the movie way but my lenses have a 5 m mark and then the next is infinity so there isn't much to do but guess where say 7.5m is ...UNLESS I palce my camera at exactly 5m and set the lens to 5m too???

Thanks for the help ..I luckily don't get a lot of "into the light" shoots and certainly don't do them on purpose on high zoom .... I think the real answer is don't have the shots too tight if it's backlit or bright ...a sharp shot at 35mm is better than a fuzzy one at 70mm

Chris
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Old April 19th, 2015, 03:34 AM   #4
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

This is where the old ways of shooting need to return. When I first started shallow depth of field was your enemy, and everything in focus was a lovely aim, rarely achieved, and even back then with tape resolution rarely above 300 lines, the key feature was a big, decent viewfinder. You could see focus so well that you could detect the slight softening and correct it before the recording format could. Now it's reversed, what you record is better than your viewfinder can cope with, and we have resorted to magnification to solve it, and it doesn't work.

The only real solution is to stop trying to squash everything into a four foot acceptable focus range, stop the lens down a bit and remove the cause. I'm also a bit surprised you (even in jest) mentioned tapes. If you have a fast moving and developing setup, unless you can judge focus from the viewfinder, it's just not going to be safe.

The one thing my short stint on OBs proved in the 80's, was that I was never going to be any good at shooting golf. Tracking a rapidly moving ball, in the air against a grey sky, with the ball sharply focussed needs skill and a properly setup monitor. I never mastered it, and was always the one on the wide shots that never moved.

Doing a wedding is a high pressure job and the beating up from getting it wrong suggests to me that going wider, increasing DoF, and a separate monitor could all be a benefit. Me, I'd stop down and make my life easier, but then I'm a bit lazy.

I don't do weddings, but theatre work, and often have little choice in the aperture setting - if the show is not the brightest, then I will always use a separate monitor, and then ride the focus as I shoot - which is often at the long end of the lens, so focus needs to be spot on.
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Old April 19th, 2015, 06:02 AM   #5
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Paul

I am old fashioned so I do it the old fashioned way but it's still tough with big sensor cameras. For the last 23 years I have been used to 3 chip camcorders and lenses that are parfocal so yes, it's way easier when you have a massive DOF to play with. Newer lenses are also NOT parfocal so the "zoom in and focus and then zoom out and you are in focus all the way" doesn't work nowdays ... In bright sun, yes of course I stop down but regardless of how fussy I am with the focus (including using 8X focus assist) the image never seems to be as sharp as my cutaway shots which are deadly sharp. With guest cutaways of course, I choose where I shoot from so the lighting is good but if the bride decides she wants a sky/sea/water or sunset background I have all the light coming from the wrong way and nothing that I can change. All you can do is focus as accurately as you can and hope the backlighting doesn't soften the image too much.

The problem is that focus peaking tends to get fooled in the bright sunshine especially if you point the camera that way and brides expect a fairly tight shot when doing their vows and you have to be at least 5 m away otherwise you are part of the ceremony ... sure, IF I could have a camera say 2m from the bride it would be much easier but that cannot happen. With bright sunshine a monitor would be tough to see and indoors I really don't need it as inside a Church we have controlled light and perfect focus which is easy peasy to lock onto!!

Dave? I had a nice backlit situation in our carport this afternoon so I used a garden gnome in place of a bride with the cam 6m away and even used a tape measure and 8X assist to make sure the focus was deadly accurate ..again the image is OK but not stunning ... turn the whole thing around with the light behind me and the result is perfect. Just for interest I had a Nikon 17-70mm F2.8 lens on the camera and amazingly if you focus at 70mm ...the focus peaking shows it in perfect focus all the way back to 24mm and it actually is in focus too. However lift the gnome up off the floor so the backlight hits it and without touching any camera settings or lens settings it is decidedly much softer looking!! It must be the rim lighting that softens the image cos nothing else changed except the lighting.

Chris

Chris
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Old April 19th, 2015, 07:48 AM   #6
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Harding View Post
I had a nice backlit situation in our carport this afternoon so I used a garden gnome in place of a bride with the cam 6m away and even used a tape measure and 8X assist to make sure the focus was deadly accurate ..again the image is OK but not stunning ... turn the whole thing around with the light behind me and the result is perfect. Just for interest I had a Nikon 17-70mm F2.8 lens on the camera and amazingly if you focus at 70mm ...the focus peaking shows it in perfect focus all the way back to 24mm and it actually is in focus too. However lift the gnome up off the floor so the backlight hits it and without touching any camera settings or lens settings it is decidedly much softer looking!! It must be the rim lighting that softens the image cos nothing else changed except the lighting.
Now that's what I call an interesting observation!

OK, it does not solve the problem, but gives an idea where to look. In my case the other day the images were not just soft they were out of focus, so it is something to do with the peaking itself, because I was running the focus ring backwards and forwards through two or three postions where peaking was showing around the main subject. Maybe that's what I get for using a stills camera for video. But I get the softness with my smaller sensor camcorders occasionally too. I shall have to try to remember to make better notes while shooting, because it doesn't seem to happen when I use auto focus, but I haven't been noting when that is so I may not be entirely correct about that.

More to think about!

Dave
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Old April 19th, 2015, 08:14 AM   #7
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Dave

During the wedding I found that as well!! Usually you can rotate the focus ring left and right to get the focus to go soft and right in the middle is your sharpest point!! I also found that the ring simply was soft when rotated to the left ..smaller distance and also soft to the right (closer to infinity) but they never seemed to be any sweet spot in the middle ..it was almost like I was trying to focus on something 1 m away and rotating the ring between 2m and infinity ...very weird.

The only answer here might be to try to calculate the subject to camera distance and then manually set the focus ring to that distance ..trouble is on my 17-70 it is graduated up to 7'(2m) then we have a gap up to infinity so if you are more than 7' away you are also guessing the focus ring position too!! That's why I was thinking if a target big enough to block all the background when zoomed full (so no backlight) and then something stuck on the target to focus peak on might help.

Tricky situation .... I have a follow focus unit too but I think the gear ratio is much the same as the ring so that wouldn't help either ..one needs a geared down unit so a full rotation of the focus wheel only moves the focus ring on the lens a small amount ...that way you could (under controlled conditions) calibrate the focus wheel?? My lens graduations are pretty accurate BUT only up to 7' then it's blank so I have no idea where say 5 m would be on the ring!!!!

Chris
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Old April 19th, 2015, 04:01 PM   #8
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Wow that sounds tricky.
If the final video is going to standard definition DVD I think I would shoot it wider and then edit the 1080 footage on a lower res timeline to crop zoom it tighter. If its being delivered in 1080 then disregard that idea :) I realize that doesn't solve the issue but if in question I would rather shoot a little wide and sharp than tight and soft at least until a consistant solution can be achieved.
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Old April 19th, 2015, 07:20 PM   #9
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Thanks David

That is a safest way to go probably! Some of the places the brides choose are flooded with light so even keeping the camera high and shooting downwards doesn't help ...I was even thinking about tilting the camera downwards towards their feet and locking focus on that as the angle wouldn't shorten the distance that much when you went back to level again. It's a tricky situation that I find myself in now and again. At least everyone in the bridal party was well lit which is some consolation ...we also get crazy situations where half are in deep shade and half in bright sun ... figure that one out for correct exposure!!

Chris
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Old April 19th, 2015, 08:41 PM   #10
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Yeah I like when the bride chooses to have the vows under a shade tree and everything else is in the bright sun! Hahah
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Old April 20th, 2015, 12:03 AM   #11
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

When I had my Panasonic AC-130's the autofocus went crazy when you pointed it into any backlit situation so it failed miserably in both dark venues and backlit scenarios.

Yeah we often have gazebo weddings where the bridal party spill out from the undercover shade and into the sun so if you expose for the people in the shade the ones in the sun are blown out!! Fun!!!
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Old April 20th, 2015, 12:42 AM   #12
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi guys...............

I'm a bit out of this as my main cam is a Canon XH A1 which has exceedingly accurate distance readouts in the viewfinder, I have no idea how many of the more recent cams are so equipped.

Armed with that information and having established that it was, indeed, exceedingly accurate even out to 1000 metres +, and the fact that fooling the camera auto focus wasn't hard at any distance with an inappropriate target, left me with only one answer.

I invested in the most accurate laser range finder I could lay my hands on, mounted it on the hot shoe, dialed the resultant figure it displayed into the camera and............bingo, all focus problems resolved manually, no eye ball strain required (and it was always right on the money, not so the "eye ball").

An old system with a new twist.


CS
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Old April 20th, 2015, 04:16 AM   #13
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Chris

I think that's a brilliant idea! My Sony's don't give a distance reading with a manual lens sadly and my one issue is that the focus ring is marked well up to 5' then there is a gap right to infinity!! I have coupled my follow focus gear which has a big wheel with graduations and then I will mark the dial outside the wheel with useful readings like 10', 15' and 20' so even zoomed at 140mm it is still accurate. Mine are shoulder mount cams and the A-Cam is on a tripod only so no big issue with bulk. what I now have to do is mark off 5, 10, 15 and 20' and use the focus assist to nail the focus at each point and mark the wheel.

Your Canon is a 3 x 1/3rd chip camera so the DOF is much bigger than my APSC sensor which has a shallow DOF when the iris is open so it's a bit more fussy.

My older Panasonic AC-130 had a distance readout in feet or metres but wasn't really accurate.

Gotta check eBay for a laser now!

Chris
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Old April 20th, 2015, 04:34 AM   #14
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Chris,

I was thinking of a coincident rangefinder like you used to be able to buy for a non-rangfinder camera, but I'm not sure you could buy one now, not a new one at any rate.

I still have a rangefinder camera kicking around, so I tried it out. It would work, but I'd forgotten how difficult it is to be certain the images are perfectly aligned, so I decided not to post. Then I saw Chris S's laser rangefinder idea. Ha! Same idea, different tool and the modern laser has to be much better.

Dave
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Old April 20th, 2015, 06:20 AM   #15
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Re: Still Struggling to Nail Focus Outdoors!!!

Hi Dave

You can get laser rangefinders here with two types .. laser and ultrasonic ..the ultrasonic ones have a shorter range (up to 18m) and of course the laser goes much further ...I am seldom more than 5 or 6 metres from the bride so probably an ultrasonic one would suffice ...I don't need to know that a person is 100' away ..the lens focus would be at infinity anyway ...I also wonder if a Church might get upset with a bright red laser in his sacred sanctuary??? You couldn't use it once you start filming either so for short range I think a sonic one would be good enough .... Otherwise if you can take consistent steps you could simply pace out the distance or carry a tape measure and even get the subject to hold one end!!!

For now I will "calibrate" my follow focus knob by physically placing objects at 2. 3 4 and 5 metres and see how that works.

Chris
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